Category Archives: Commerce


Wandering the aisles of a local store, I encountered this product:

colour“Colour,” of course, is the British spelling; in America–where the Farberware company has been situated since 1900–it’s “color.”


I heard a reference on a TV commercial the other day to the “Axe Peace Range”–Axe being a brand of men’s deodorant and such, peace being peace, and “range” being, as I dimly recalled once having learned, the British word for what Americans call “line” (as in “product line”) or “collection.”

To be sure, Axe is a product from Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch company, but my TV is in the U. S. of A., not England or Holland. Unilever’s (American) website notes:

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I couldn’t help noticing that this single page contains no fewer than six Britishisms, starting with range and the inverted commas in the screenshot above. The others: European date format, logical punctuation, and two different spellings. The first is organisation. The second is in reference to the advert where the Peace Range was first announced, on that quintessential American programme The Super Bowl.

Update: As reader Phoebus notes, below, I mistakenly described the Unilever site I saw and quoted. On the company’s American site, there seems to be only one Britishism. That’s right, range.



Lag time

It seems that just at the moment that brilliant has passed the ironic tipping point in the U.K., American commerce has decided the time is right to adopt it. Brilliant.

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As noted in such past entries as stockists and opening hours, a number of U.S. retailers have lately affected British terminology, presumably in an attempt to seem hip or classy. Sara Wilson alerted me to a wrinkle on the trend that can be seen in the the clothing purveyor Boden. The company originated in the U.K. but has a robust U.S. website on which, if anything, it seems to use more Britishisms than on its British one. Sara pointed out this banner ad:

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She didn’t know what snaffle means, nor, in fact, if the expression being used was snaffle, snaffle up, or snaffle up to. Neither did I till I looked it up in the OED, whose definition for snaffle is: “To appropriate, seize, catch, snatch.” “I soon snaffled a double role in a big spectacle.”–Sunday Express, 1928. (The OED notes that the verb is sometimes rendered as snaffle up, but I believe that is not the case in the Boden ad, as it would render the word “to” meaningless. Rather, the phrase “up to” signifies some discounts are less than 40 percent.)

The Boden site is studded with flamboyant Britishisms. They call sweaters jumpers, a word that hasn’t been uttered on these shores since the film About a Boy. There are references to honour, sackings (for firings), offers (for sales), a call centre (in Pittston PA), and a range (what Americans would call a line). Logical punctuation is employed, and anyone with a question is instructed to call (why not ring?) a customer care representative on 1-866-206-9508 (needless to say, an American phone number).

Boden, could you be any more precious?

So what’s up with the “u”?

According, to Wikipedia, the athletic clothing company Under Armour was started in 1996 by “Kevin Plank, a 23-year old former University of Maryland special teams captain for the university American football team. Plank began the business from his grandmother’s basement in Washington, D.C.”

“Ae” spelling

I was tempted to categorize this as a “Faux NOOB” because the ae combination in such forms as orthopaedics, paediatrics and archaeology derive from ancient Greek and aren’t specifically British. But until a recent pronounced uptick, they have traditionally been found much more commonly in Britain than in the U.S. Thus I feel they represent a proper NOOB.

I do, however, enthusiastically put them in a new category I’ve just created: “Commerce.” That’s because no one (or no American) on his or her own would think to write paediatrician rather than pediatrician. Rather, the ae form in this word and in orthopaedic appears on every billboard and print advertisement I see these days because some ad-person thought they sounded classy, official and vaguely British. (Remind me to retroactively put bespoke and stockist in this category as well.)

A special case is encyclopaedia. According to the OED, that spelling would have become “obsolete” in the late 19th century were it not used by the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” and other reference works. “Britannica,” of course, not only uses the a and e but famously connects them in a fused character called a ligature. Interestingly, while ae is still very much of the operation’s trade name, there appears to be some movement toward losing the a, as in this Google search result:

The only person who pronounces the ae in encyclopaedia is Ted on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” He’s routinely ragged for this by his friends, including Robin, who in one “intervention” tells him:

Dear Ted: It’s “encyclopedia,” not “encyclopaedia.” You always pronounce things in the most pretentious way possible, and it makes you sound douchy, and not “douchay.”